Religion and Social Trends

Congregational Engagement Ascends

Percentage of engaged members highest since 2001

Results from Gallup's latest national Congregational Engagement Index survey* suggest American congregation members are more likely to be engaged with their own religious congregations than they have been since the Index's inception four years ago. Data collected during October 2004 indicate the percentage of "engaged" members in U.S. religious congregations has risen to 32%, from 26% in 2001. The percentage of members who are "not engaged" has dropped to 52%, down from 56% in 2001, and the percentage of "actively disengaged" members is 16%, essentially the same as the 18% in 2001.

Gallup's congregational engagement survey measures the degree to which Americans are actively involved in, and emotionally attached to, their faith communities. Engaged congregation members are intensely loyal and have a strong psychological connection to the congregations they belong to. They are happier with their lives, are far more likely to invite others to congregation activities, volunteer more hours in the community, and make larger financial contributions to their congregations. (Gallup refers to these four desirable outcomes as "life satisfaction," "inviting," "serving," and "giving.")

Those who are not engaged may attend services regularly and feel satisfied with their congregations, but their connection to their congregations is more social than spiritual. Actively disengaged members are either apathetic or negative about their congregations. Some are members "in name only" and rarely attend services, while others may attend, but are unhappy with their congregations and insist on sharing that unhappiness with just about everyone.

The Measures of Engagement

Gallup research shows that the level to which members are engaged in their congregations has a greater influence on the outcomes of serving, inviting, life satisfaction, and giving than does individual spiritual commitment, or even adherence to core theological beliefs. To be sure, commitment and doctrine are important, but increasing members' engagement levels has the maximum impact on these outcomes.

To measure congregational engagement, Gallup asks respondents to rate each of 12 survey items on a scale of 1 to 5. The 12 items are:

  1. As a member of my congregation, I know what is expected of me.
  2. In my congregation, my spiritual needs are met.
  3. In my congregation, I regularly have the opportunity to do what I do best.    
  4. In the last month, I have received recognition or praise from someone in my congregation.   
  5. The spiritual leaders in my congregation seem to care about me as a person.
  6. There is someone in my congregation who encourages my spiritual development.
  7. As a member of my congregation, my opinions seem to count.
  8. The mission or purpose of my congregation makes me feel my participation is important.
  9. The other members of my congregation are committed to spiritual growth.
  10. Aside from family members, I have a best friend in my congregation.
  11. In the last six months, someone in my congregation has talked to me about the progress of my spiritual growth.
  12. In my congregation, I have opportunities to learn and grow.

Copyright © 2001 The Gallup Organization, Princeton, NJ. All rights reserved.

Bottom Line

The finding that American congregation members are a little more likely to show a strong connection to their congregations than in recent years contrasts with other broad measures of religiosity -- like the Gallup Index of Leading Religious Indicators -- that show little change in the past year (see "Religiosity Measure Shows Stalled Recovery" in Related Items). To use an analogy from last fall's election campaigns, the religious "base" may not be any bigger, but it appears to be slightly more energized.

Leaders who can tap into and focus that energy will find the challenges of leading a congregation much easier to meet. The key is to determine what particular areas of congregational engagement have contributed most to the overall upward trend. Next week, we will look at which of the survey items are most strongly linked to this trend.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,000 adult members of a church, synagogue, or other religious faith community, aged 18 and older, and 500 nonmembers, conducted in October 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±2.6 percentage points.

As Global Practice Leader for Faith Communities, Dr. Winseman leads Gallup's research and consulting services that assist faith communities in helping their members become more engaged. He is a co-author of the new book, Living Your Strengths, written to help members discover and use their talents and strengths in their congregations. Before joining The Gallup Organization, he was a pastor in the United Methodist Church for 15 years.
Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/14950/Congregational-Engagement-Ascends.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030